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The Path to Indie Development – Part 1(?)

October 18th, 2014

Today is something unusual for the blog: I’m going to share a bit of the business side of game development, including some never before released sales numbers!

As you probably know, Rogue Touch was released in early 2009 when there were only 30k apps available for download. It’s still a solid and fun game, but certainly nothing press-worthy in the million-plus sea of apps in 2014. After all this time it reached a big milestone in early October: surpassing 25,000 copies sold. This would be cause for great celebration… if it hadn’t taken 5 years, 7 months, and 14 days after its original release in the App Store!

Over half of all those purchases occurred in the first year of Rogue’s life, especially during the sale I conducted while featured by Apple. RT followed the traditional early spike, rapid decline, and “long tail” that has become common to see in app sales discussions. It has never gone “free”, and has spent vast majority of the time at $2.99. A small trickling average of 2 or 3 purchases continue daily, with an occasional larger spike in sales, and the odd “zero-day” as well.

Despite being an App Store Antique, there are a fair number of you out there still playing Rogue Touch and updating faithfully each year. The last major revision (V1.70) in September 2013 saw well over 50% of the entire sales-base download the update during its first week of availability! Not too shabby considering how many of you bought RT over 5 years ago 😉

I’m grateful for the moderate success my ugly-duckling version of Rogue has seen, considering the hugely competitive environment in the App Store. However, you may have noticed the problem I face going forward: an average of 2.5 copies sold per day gives $5 per day (after Apple’s 30% cut), or about $150 per month. Without another source of income this is certainly not enough to live on while trying to become a full time indie developer!

This bleak reality is the one that 99% of mobile game developers face today.

So here we are. The two primary options available when faced with challenges like this:
      1) Work harder to earn more money
      2) Reduce expenses/overhead, spend less

Rather than choose one option, I am pursuing both (and more): Saving every dollar possible from my consulting business while I aggressively cut down debt & expenses, and adding some secret sauce- selling off most of my possessions and preparing to live a nomadic lifestyle!

The idea is to reach a critical mass of investments and savings, then quit automation consulting and move into game development full time… a combination of early-retirement & career-change. In theory this will cover my lowered monthly expenses while I devote my time to increasing app-related income. I devised this plan after reading various “Financial Independence” blogs. If you’re interested in that topic try starting with Mr Money Mustache. He has some great articles that will get you thinking about your own money, work / life balance, and happiness.

In the interim this means lots of hard work and sacrifices for me, and a slow pace of development due to a heavy focus on higher-income consulting. Things will pick up speed soon though, especially due to efforts that some really great artists have been making to stockpile sprites, tiles, and other necessary graphics for me. You guys are awesome! 😀

The good news is this approach will give me something that many full-time indie developers don’t have: a safety net. Efforts made today should allow me to work on all sorts of new ideas and games in the future without the fear of ending up homeless/destitute (due to low sales) within the first few years of my indie-adventure.

Of course I still need to worry about making *great* games, and increasing that tiny $150 per month game-related income! But that is a story for another day…

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